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FATHER KNOWS BEST?

LAW RELATED FILMS AND TELEVISION ABOUT DADS

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since July 24, 2001

  

 

In a surprising number of films, Dad, the traditional head of the household, is a criminal. Consider such blockbuster movies as The Godfather (1972) and its sequels, precursors, and imitators (including the current HBO series The Sopranos), docudramas such as Judgment Day: The John List Story (TVM 1993), starring Robert Blake, currently a dad in the news, and films dramatizing the O. J. Simpson murder trial (The O. J. Simpson Story (TVM 1995)) and American Tragedy (TV miniseries 2000)).

Murderers

Dads are cast as murderers, as in Benefit of the Doubt (1993), starring Donald Sutherland as a wife killer bent on revenge against the daughter who testified against him. In Deadly Relations (TVM 1993), based on the book by Carol Donahue, Robert Urich stars as an insurance salesman who murders two of his sons-in-law. Urich returns in Blind Faith (TVM 1990), based on the Joe McGinniss book about another insurance salesman who murders his wife, both for the money and so he can marry his girlfriend. The trust that families have in their fathers and husbands is clearly cast into doubt in such films, which have even more impact, given that they are based on true stories. Neither Deadly Relations nor Blind Faith presents the father/murderer as a sympathetic figure. From cases in the law which considered that marital infidelity or wild behavior by offspring might mitigate charges of murder brought against fathers and husbands, films now almost uniformly condemn fathers who kill, no matter what the reason. The Paladin Press case, in which a father and husband was convicted of murder for hire, is another look at evil dads, as well as a consideration of the extent to which the First Amendment should protect free speech. Deliberate Intent (TVM 2000), based on Rodney Smolla=s book, dramatized the civil side of the case.

Child abusers

In I Know My First Name is Steven (TVM 1989), based on a true story, a teenager realizes that the man he believes is his father is really his kidnapper and abuser. In Shattered Trust: The Shari Karney Story (TVM 1993) based on another true story, an attorney realizes she is the victim of incest. However, such stories, based on Arecovered memories@ have recently come under fire. The sympathetic portrayal of the victims and the consequent unsympathetic view of the alleged perpetrators (usually the fathers) suggests another interesting topic for research: how does the media, having adopted the view that recovered memories are reliable, present such a view to the public? In A Mother=s Right: The Elizabeth Morgan Story (TVM 1992), we see the recent case of Dr. Elizabeth Morgan who accused her husband Eric Foretich of abusing their daughter. Rather than allow visitation, Morgan went to jail. Foretich sued ABC over the film (Foretich v. ABC).

Custodial and Non-Custodial Parents

In such films as Kramer v. Kramer (1979), starring Dustin Hoffmann and Meryl Streep, the father is cast as a loving parent wanting to do the best for his children in the face of desertion (for whatever reasons) by the mother. Jon Voight plays a widowed father alienated from his children and facing such difficulties in Table for Five (1983), a theme picked up as well in other films. AFather Knows Best@, the name of a popular television series of the fifties, is a theory that used to be extremely popular; as the woman=s movement has gained strength and paternal control has come under fire, fathers seem to know less and less. Child custody has traditionally been given to the mother, but in some cases paternal custody offers an interesting contrast, as in the series Bachelor Father and My Two Dads. Both series are comedies, as is Family Affair ; but whereas Bachelor Father and Family Affair cast the father figure as wise and patient, the fathers in My Two Dads are somewhat incompetent. In Full House, the custodial parent is a widower who raises his daughters with the willing but inept assistance of two close male friends. In The Jennifer Ireland Story (TVM 1996, based on a real case), an unmarried mother struggling with financial problems is sued for custody of her daughter by the child=s father, who claims that placing her in child care constitutes child abuse. Yet, moviemakers are clearly concerned that fathers seem to have so many fewer parental opportunities than mothers, as the film A Matter of Justice (TVM 1993) makes clear. When a woman suspects her ex-daughter-in-law of murdering her son, she carries on a fight to obtain custody of her grandchildren, a fight that ultimately ends in tragedy. In Abandoned and Deceived (TVM 1995) a woman fights in court to gain access to her ex-husband=s pensions to support her children. In Aaron Cohen=s Debt (1999) the filmmakers explore the question of wrongful accusations of lack of child support. In such films as Point Last Seen (TVM 1998) a woman deals with her ex-husband=s kidnapping of their children.

Other topics

In Silent Victim (TVM 1993) a man sues his wife for losing their unborn child during a suicide attempt.

 


 




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